Short Story: Preserving Society

I sat on my couch staring at a television that flickered with images like something from a nightmare. I kept hoping I’d wake up. The longer I waited to, the more obvious it became I wasn’t going to. That this was real. News reports were blaring, but the anchors’ tones were different. They mocked-mourning and sadness. Those emotions were nothing more than expertly crafted table-readings. It was sickening to behold, but I was too numb to notice.

The talking heads were doing what they did best. Talking. About another presidential assassination. They’d become more common in the last decades. People outright refused the position or title now. They feared the inevitable. No one blamed them. ‘Course, that didn’t keep the poor bastards’ heads from being splattered like dropped watermelons. Or their cars from being bombed. Or their homes. Or any of the other insanity the rebellion had taken to.

It was a difficult time. One of revolution. This was worse than any yet. Bloodier than the American revolution. Bloodier than the French Revolution. Any of the Arab Springs. Bloodier, simply by virtue of its battleground.

The U.S. was a hot-bed of dissent and protest. When those things inevitably failed the aggrieved, the riots started. It was difficult to say they ever failed. They never had a purpose. The eventual repercussions were no less undesirable:

Militias formed with growing frequency. States, counties, municipalities, embraced their rights, superseded the Federal Government where they could, because they could. That meant catering to the lowest common denominator– the loudest blatherers of so-called majorities regarding things more terrible than fair.

Eventually the National Guard got involved. Then, when they too, failed, the Army. It was the first time in history that our military patrolled to keep order. The truth was, there was never a snowball’s chance in hell it could. Everyone knew that. Even I did. Most of us “unaffiliated” just kept our heads down, noses to the grindstone. We started thinking or talking about leaving. It was just griping, at least in most cases.

Passports were denied en-masse soon after. It became obvious anyone wanting to leave wouldn’t have an easy time of it. The Feds wanted to keep everyone in-country, paying rising taxes for the forces oppressing them. Meanwhile the locals wanted sworn or blood oaths to defend their beliefs. Otherwise you were a spy. It was asinine, but then, it had been.

The first ripples of chaos came with the first presidential assassination. It wasn’t the only assassination at the time, surely wasn’t the last. The bloodbath hadn’t yet begun. Even now I doubt it’s at full-volume. Every time we think that, some bastards kick it up to a new eleven.

I was just a laborer. Just trying to feed my family. Occasionally I griped; about unnecessary security check-points, about guarded work-sites, about “wellness” stops on roads, and searches at every place of public gathering. But it was just that; griping.

The turning point was the talking heads’ first allusions to “refugee camps,” and “protective re-locations,” alongside “fears for our fighting men and women.” The euphemisms were thin. Smoke-screens. It was the beginning of a round up aimed at political dissidents, prisoners. People I knew began disappearing. Men I worked with– women too, gender didn’t matter– just up and gone. Sometimes, their lives and families went with. Sometimes, they didn’t. It wasn’t difficult to see the “protective re-locations” were involuntary.

Anyone not touting the Feds’ line were watched. It was like the Cold War Russia portrayed in the US media. Lots of dystopia. Lots of shadow games. Lots of state-sponsored murder. All the same, there was no denial of how bad things were. The disappearances were as much political maneuvers as insurance against further aggression. Fat lot of good it did in the end.

I didn’t know yet how it was happening. That is, how people were being picked from the crowds. I learned the hard way; a decade or so before before, we’d learned the government– our government– was spying on us. It was so wholly and thorough that the volume of information being collected could never be fully sifted. Not by humans. It was never meant to be. Instead, it was fed into a secret database. Every person was identified, profiled, and connected to the collected datasets. Phone transcripts. Emails. Forum posts. Illegal audio and video recordings. Every opinion, every thought, and every belief ever espoused within range of an electronic device was collected.

It’s not difficult to see where we were headed. Orwell was nearing a perpetual-motion disaster with all the spinning he was doing in his grave.

That night, of the fifth presidential assassination, I was staring at the TV, absolutely dead to the world. Dead inside. Dead, in that special way of one who’s endured more trauma than one has a right to– and yet is about to experience more.

If I’d known those would be my last moments as a free man, I might have done something more worthwhile. Anything more worthy of themselves. Instead, I stared at the TV. The talking heads drooled through the air between me and the box in stereophonic sound and 4k-ultra-high-definition.

The door to my living room exploded off its hinges. I barely blinked. I was a junkie nodding off. Filled brimming with drool and stoned by it. Nothing in the world could bother or affect me. The smoke hadn’t even cleared when the masked military team encircled me. They brandished rifles. Screamed unintelligibly. I knew enough: I was being “relocated.”

Turns out, “it was concluded I might present a security risk” given “adequate motivation.” When my wits finally returned, reality re-focused. I remembered my ages-old griping. It was the check-points and such. Everything I’d bemoaned was recorded, logged, later used as rationale for imprisonment.

The camp isn’t so bad, I guess. It’s no Ritz. No skid-row. But I can’t complain, really. We get three meals, a place to sleep. Freedom was nice, but it wasn’t for us. Not yet. We never cared for it. Maybe one day we’ll be willing to earn it again. Then again, who could fight for the insanity we left behind? Who’d want to?

Maybe the talking heads should do a segment on that; why’s society worth preserving in its current state? I’m not holding my breath or anything, but I’m betting if they did, they’d be hard pressed to find honest answers.